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tv   [untitled]    February 11, 2011 7:30am-8:00am PST

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something they can learn from as well. my mother loved to do poetry. i would sit in the hallow of her arm and begin resiting dunbar poetry. [inaudible] you as dirty as me. look at that mouth. him being so sweet and sticky, goodness. i would say momma, do it again, please. i would beg her to do it again, she would say, no, go to bed, now. i grew up listening to dunbar who wrote in dialect, little brown baby. he wrote beautiful things in
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standard english. an angel robed in spotless white. the spirit was gone, men saw the blush and called it [inaudible]. i fell in love with that beautiful black angel. i could visualize it the way my mother would resite it. i know why the cage bird sings, it would be free. it is not a carol of joy or pray upward to heaven he fling. i know why the cage bird sings. mia angelou knew of it.
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i like dunbar, my grandfather used words the way he described him. good morning mr. james, how are you feeling this morning. he would say i am stepping, but not high. isn't that wonderful? okay. okay. i go play down by the creek. he would say yes, tkarlg, but be particular. that meant be careful because i love you and don't want anything to happen to you. it was coded in the be protected. he often said be careful now.
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that meant one thing, be particular, there was stuff down by the creek and he wanted me to be careful and watch because he didn't want anything to happen to me. be particular did it all. when he would say when you go over there, i want you to walk and hold your head up like you belong to somebody. that meant you were representing your family. i want you to carry yourself in a way that you represent your family well with. he didn't have to go through all of that. hold your head up and act like you belong to somebody. if you didn't, you were growing up like a weed. i love dunbar for that reason. fast forward many years later, i am a teacher of 8th grade
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english. i want to give my students dunbar. there is nothing for young readers. so i complained. it is a shame they don't have a book about dunbar in the library. somebody ought to write a book about it. then it hit me, instead of whining and complaining why i haven't gotten something i need, write it yourself. but i had never written a book before, how do you start? well, i went to the library again, found a book, how to write a children's book, not a very imaginative title, but it told me what i needed. wrote a book from cover to cover, researched it.
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i knew ever detail. even went to his home in dayton, ohio and visited his house, shared it with my students and they said who wrote this? it is awful. [laughter]. it is so boring. i said mercifully, i did not put my name on it. it was dreadful because i had simply paid attention to detail. i had not bothered to give the young reader a story to hang on. they didn't know dunbar, they new the skeleton, but didn't know him. they didn't know the world he
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lived in. they didn't know his friends. they didn't know anything about him that he was born in 1872 in dayton, ohio, graduated. so the learned the first lesson every write er must learn, you'll learn it the hard way or start from the beginning. don't be with afraid, tear it up, start over again. or go in and say i have got to move this, i have got to change this. the formal word gets revision. you'll revise and revise until you figure, i can't revise anymore and send it to the editor, we have lots of revision with this.
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revising is 90 percent of writing. i wrote that very first book in 1971. it didn't get published until 1982. no i don't have to work on books that long anymore. but that first one, learn how to rewrite, restructure, move things. i have written many more biographies. i have learned the most important thing, you must tell a good story, character, setting, action, and idea. you have it in fiction as well as non fiction. some where along the line we were taught that non fiction is simply facts. it is not truth. facts wrapped around a story.
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facts put in a story. let's go back to that porch again, this time my mother in that soft tone of hers. she would tell hair raising ghost stories. she would start at the hour of the dark:30. that is 30 minutes before it gets all the way dark and the monsters come out. and i can hear her say, you used to be a woman who appeared under that street light over there and our heads would all go as one with the street light. it was though we were looking for the lady who walked in front of our house and didn't have a head. when she got to this street
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light she vanished. then in the same breath she would say, now would you go into the house and get me a drink of water? i would have to go into that creeky old house all by myself. it wasn't so bad in the living room because the lights from the front porch, but she had a table that had claw feet and i knew it was going to snatch me by the ankles and never be heard from again. i scaled along the wall carefully. when i got to the kitchen, it was pitch dark, couldn't see your hand before you. why didn't you just switch on the light? we didn't have a wall switch in that old country house. there was a light in the center
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of the room with a cord that hung down and had to go all the way into that dark, dark kitchen, like going into a mouth. you go in and feeling around for the pull switch. meanwhile my brother would slip around the side of the house. he was really my uncle, but grew up like siblings. my uncle brother. but leon would come in the back door and stand by the refrigerator. when i would switch on the light he would jump out snarling like she was changing into wolfman. i would know it was him. he would -- i would start running and hop passed the table and out through the living room and my grandmother would say don't slam, bam, the
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screen door. i loved being deliciously frightened by my grandmother's stories. i loved being frightened as most young people love to be frightened. fast forward again, i decided i know, i am going to tell my grandmother's stories, so i wrote the dark:30, southern tales of the supernatural. i had never written anything longer. these are short stories, a collection of 10. based on southern stories, my stories but based on stories that i heard. they were like stories i heard.
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one in particular comes from my growing up. we managed our monsters. i was the founder and first president of monster watches of america. i ate 6 boxes of crinkle cereal and in the mail i received 6 glow in the dark id badges, oh yes. and i invited 5 friends to join me. the most prized possession was the monster book, you know the monster rules, you know them. module no. 10, monsters cannot come within the circle of light.
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if you have light, they can't come in that circle of lot. monster rule no. 7, you don't play near where monsters live. isn't that common sense? why do they have people stay in houses and it says get out? i say who wrote that? [laughter]. so in my book when the house says get out, well get out. monster no. 5 says never lie about seeing a monster. we all know they are there, those of us that are believers. you can see them just out of your sight. hear them scratching around in the dark, they are there all right. you can't say you have seen one if you haven't. monster rule no. 2, never let a monster see you cry.
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no matter how frightened you are, fluff up. fluff up, because when they see you are frightened they make all of those noises and scare you to death. never let them see you crying. the last one, the prime directive, monster rule no. 1, if you love and know you are loved, love protects against all monsters. i did those monster rules in the dark:30, the last stories. there is typical monsters, i was sure there was a monster that lived in my grandmother's chicken coup. the last thing is, i tell the monster i am not afraid of you
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anymore because i am the granddaughter, no i am the oldest granddaughter of james leon oldhand. he loves me and i know it and the monster vanished. you know, even to this day, monsters still do come. no they are not the childhood monsters, but just as wicked. you might know them, the irs. [laughter]. i hope there are no irs workers here today. bad reviews, i think you know those. [inaudible] sexism, regionalism, we can go on and
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on with the isms. i am the oldest granddaughter of james leon, he is a monster fighting and so am i. that comes from southern tales of supernatural. a porch lie is not a mean or vicious lie, it is a story of exaggeration and humor. the one that loretta told you about, cake lawrence. all the people that knew him called him cake, he used to steal the warm cake that his mother put out. he would cut a slice and run off to the crawl space.
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they call him cake. i use that in my story. those 2 come from my grandmother, she was the germ, the seed of those 2 books and many others. let's go back to that front porch again. this time daddy james is the story teller. we sit at his feet and listen about stories about sara and pat and nollen. that is my brother, my sister, and me. we thought we were just as clever and smart and just as brave as the children in his story. he told stories vaguely familiar, but different some how because he told them his way. you see, i had no idea my
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grandfather was a functional illiterate and encouraged all 3 of us, his grandchildren to read. the way he encouraged me, he'd say y'all read to me what they taught you up at the schoolhouse today. i would whip out my dick and jane. see jane run. run, he endured that. he allowed me to read to him. i had no idea in other families the adults read to children. in my house, children read to the adults. imagine the confidence they gave me in my readings. i loved to read out loud. enjoyed it immensely. so i would read dick and jane all the way up to julius caesar.
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when i came to a word difficult, he would say work with it little sister. he wouldn't jump in and tell me. he would let me work it out so i did. i learned to jump into words. that built my confidence, grandmother and ggrandfather were from the old school. i can remember borrowing $25 from my grandmother. i was taking out my checkbook to pay her. she said no, darling, don't give me a little piece of paper. what did i give you. i said a 20 and a 5.
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so bring me that. they went to the light company and paid their light bills. they went to the department store and paid whatever. they went there once or twice a week to take care of business. the process of going through things, my grandmother would take me to the library. all along the way there were places where we couldn't go to the andrew jackson hotel, we couldn't go to morten's cafeteria. there was a paramount theatre, we had to go in the back door, separate water fountains.
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it was a very negative experience. when i got to the library, right above the door, all are welcome. i could go in the front door. i could remember the librarian, she had a bonnet on the back of her head. very sensible shoes. i look at librarians today, that is how they look. she always spoke in a whisper. didn't talk out loud in the library. whispered. she was so kind to me that i loved librarians. when they ask me to do something, it is hard for me to say no. and that is why i flew in the dark at night from atlanta to come out here. [laughter]. but it is because of that generosity of the national
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public library. so i went there to get my books and i would bring them home and read all 3. then the next week i would take them back to the library. i would read often. when you read better, you read success. i credit the national public library with my successes as a young reader and a young writer. my grandfather had 2 books on his shelf. one was king james version of the bible, the other was bull finch's mythology. it was that thick and on the mantle. i can see it as clearly as i am looking at them now. keu remember looking at the pictures and beginning to pick through some of the stories.
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and i learned to love those stories and if you read my books as a collection, and some people have, you will see that those 2 books inform most of my writings in subtle ways, not overt, in subtle ways you can see those books and the influence that they have on my writing. daddy james would tell store reus about little girls named sara and pat and little boy named nollin and one he told in particular was one of my favorites. the 3 kids had a chore for the grandmother. take a basket of eggs to a neighbor's house. along the way they were confronted by a wolf, bear, snake, and fox.
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is they tricked that fox, and the bear and got them to the woods. it is a long, long summer and i don't have a contract, i said, maybe i'll try to write something, never written a picture book before. i sat at the word processor, i'll write my grandfather books. all 16 pages. it is usually 6 to 7 pages long. i sent it to my editor anne swarts. she was at thow publishing
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books. at the time she was at dial. she was right out of college and a reader. she wrote my manuscripts. she said it has possibility. there is a story in there but way too much going on. you have 3 kids, a grandmother, a grandfather, you got a bear, a snake, a wolf, and fox. a dog, cat, and a neighbor, way too much going on. if you'd like to rewrite it and shorten it some what and i'd be glad to look at it again. but that is not my
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grandfather's story. i can't do that. i thought i don't have a contract. i said i'll get rid of my brother and sister. [laughter]. and i'll keep myself. and i'll get rid of the wolf, bear, and snake and keep the fox because i like his voice. i dare say a little girl like you should be simply terrified of me. whatever do they teach children in school these days? whatever you are, you sure think of heap of yourself as she skipped away from the fox leaving him to prove that he really was who he said he was. before long she came to a tree there were flowers and she picked wild flowers, this fox fled up beside her.
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prepare to be frightened. i am a fox because i have 6 luxurious furs. he leaned over for me to stoke his back. it is soft. it feels just like rabbit's fur. you are not a fox, you are a rabbit all the time trying to fool me. did you hear her call me a rabbit? a mere bunny. i have you know young lady, i am a fox of rare breed. i am rated some of the finest hen houses from franklin to madison. i am a fox and you'll act accordingly. she put her hands on her hip
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and said [inaudible] she skipped away leaving the fox dumbfounded. got all the way through the woods tricking that fox. he had been reduced to sniffling and crying. he was a pitiful mess. give me once last chance i am certain i can prove it. about that time [inaudible] came through the woods. you can see it a little ways in the distance. fox didn't notice a thing. he was begging to be believed. wait, wait here it is. i am a fox, he said yes, yes. sometimes he could run. it doesn't matter what i think anymore.
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it doesn't matter anymore. you have sharp teeth and can run fast. by the way he is looking all over for you. if fox dashed towards the woods, not to worry, the hound dog knows who i am. i have been out running that old miserable mutt for years like i told you i am a fox. i know. i know. she turned toward ms. viola's with a basket of eggs. i rewrote it and sent it back and it was 7 pages long. that was the beginning of our relationship. we have done many


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